The Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.12a was produced in an attempt to improve the performance of the single seat B.E.12 by giving it the wings from the B.E.2e, which at the time was believed to be a vast improvement on the basic B.E.2c.
Work on the B.E.12a began soon after the appearance of the B.E.2e. It combined the fuselage, engine and single cockpit of the B.E.12 with the unequal span single bay wings of the B.E.2e, and much was expected of it. Early tests suggested that the B.E.12a was more manoeuvrable than the B.E.12, but in service this apparent advantage soon disappeared. The B.E.12a was not as popular in service as the B.E.12, and only 150 were ordered before production switched to the B.E.12b.
The B.E.12a was used by four squadrons in the Middle East, although one of these squadrons, No.14, only used the type for one month. No.1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, was the first to use the type in the area, and was using it alongside the Martinsyde G.100/102 when it was redesignated as No.67 Squadron, RFC, in September 1917. The squadron used the B.E.12a as a reconnaissance aircraft until February 1918, when it reequipped as a fighter squadron and reverted to its original designation.
Nos.142 and 144 squadrons both operated the B.E.12a alongside other aircraft during 1918, using the type for tactical reconnaissance and artillery spotting during the campaign in Palestine and Syria. Even here the B.E.12a had been phased out by the end of the war – No.142 Squadron converted to the R.E.8 and F.K.8 in the spring of 1918 and No.144 Squadron standardised on the D.H.9 in August 1918.
The B.E.12a was operated by Nos.17 and 47 squadrons at Salonika. Both squadrons received their B.E.12as during 1916 – No.47 in March and No.47 in November, and both retained them into 1918. In both cases the B.E.12 and B.E.12a were operated alongside a wider range of other aircraft, including the Spad S.7, Nieuport 17, S.E.5A, F.K.3, F.K.8, B.E.2c, B.E.2d, Bristol Scout, D.H.2 and Vickers F.B.19. Both squadrons were split into reconnaissance and fighter flights, with the B.E.12 performing the reconnaissance role.
The B.E.12a was used by four Home Defence squadrons – Nos.37, 39, 50 and 78 – serving alongside the standard B.E.12 and the earlier B.E.2c and B.E.2e in each case. Three squadrons had probably received their B.E.12as by the end of 1916, and three retained the type into 1918, although none still operated the B.E.12a at the armistice.
Engine: RAF 4a V-12 liquid cooled engine
Power: 140 hp
Wingspan: 40 feet 9 inches (upper), 30ft 6in lower
Length: 27 feet 3inches
Empty Weight: 1,610lbs
Maximum Weight: 2,327lbs
Max. Speed: 105 mph at sea level, 93mph at 6,000ft
Ceiling: 11,000 feet
Range: 315 miles
Climb: 5 min to 3,000ft, 11 min 30 sec to 6,000ft
Armament: Normally one .303 Vickers gun, one .303 Lewis gun
Payload: Two 112lb bombs or 10 Le Prieur rockets